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Play for STEM Learning

Posted on 14 July 2021

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers

As play is so natural for children, it provides them with a rich context for learning, through which they can make sense of their world. During play children try new things, solve problems, invent, create, test ideas, explore and discover. Play-based learning has been shown to improve a child’s IQ and help them develop a wide range of skills – such as problem solving, language development and social skills – that support academic achievement.

One area of learning where play can be extremely effective when harnessed is STEM. STEM stands for Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and even though you may not initially think so, it pervades every part of our lives. STEM skills are considered more important than ever for a number of reasons, including…

  1. STEM Skills are critical to school success and life
  2. Employer demand for STEM qualifications and skills is high
  3. STEM skills help to bridge the ethnic and gender gaps sometimes found in math and science fields
  4. Current jobs are disappearing due to automation
  5. New jobs are emerging as an outcome of technological advances
  6. The wage for STEM jobs is about 70% more than the national average

Despite STEM subjects typically being viewed as heavily classroom-based subjects, there are actually limitless opportunities to practise STEM skills and learn about STEM concepts when engaging in free or structured play. Skills include creativity, inquiry skills, critical analysis, teamwork and collaboration, innovation, communication, digital literacy and problem solving, all of which empower children to succeed and adapt to this increasingly complex, changing, technological world.

To incorporate STEM learning in the classroom, you need the necessary tools, resources, and materials in place to facilitate learning through play. Open-ended materials such as building sets and loose parts kits are great for children to learn STEM skills through building and constructing. Whilst encouraging child-directed play, it is also useful to ask children open-ended what and why questions as they play to expand their play and encourage them to maintain and develop their natural curiosity.

Learning through play empowers students through voice, agency and leadership, and with those working in STEM industries in charge of building communities and moving the nation forward, children who have ample opportunities to develop these skills are being given the opportunity to make a real difference in the future.

Find out why Play Action International incorporates play into its programmes to enrich the lives of disadvantaged children.